Car Accidents: Causes and Courses of Action

  Minnesotans depend heavily on their vehicles to take them everywhere. Driving means putting up with traffic jams, distracted or impaired drivers, and the ever-changing Minnesota weather.  Sometimes these challenges result in accidents.  They often happen out of nowhere and could leave you and your family reeling from the impact. If you have experienced a sudden car accident, consider speaking with one of the personal injury attorneys from Heller & Thyen, P.A. as soon as you are able. We are here to help you through this tough time.   Common Causes of Car Accidents   So, why do car crashes happen in the first place? Car accidents can be caused by a wide variety of issues, including part defects, bad weather, and unsafe road conditions. Aside from vehicle maintenance and practicing safe driving techniques, drivers can’t control these external factors. They can, however, do something about distracted driving, which is one of the main causes of car accidents.   Driving is an inherently dangerous activity so driving while distracted significantly increases the chances a driver will make a mistake and cause an accident. Some of the activities that frequently lead to distracted driving include:
  • Being lost in thought, or driving on autopilot
  • Texting
  • Using a smartphone in general
  • Talking to or paying attention to passengers
  • Gazing out the windows at scenery
  • Eating or drinking
  • Grooming oneself
  • Watching videos
  • Physical impairment
  The bottom line? Resist the urge to multitask while behind the wheel if you want to avoid getting into a car accident.   What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Car Accident Case?   Many aspects of your life can be affected by a car accident. A car accident lawyer can help you get compensation for a number of damages, including:  
  • Medical and rehabilitation bills
  • Lost wages and loss of future income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship
  • Property damage
  What to Do After a Car Accident   First, make sure that the cars involved in the accident are moved out of danger if this is possible.  If you are on a busy highway or street, make sure everyone is away from passing cars.  Take photographs of the vehicles in their original position, the damage to each vehicle and skid marks on the road if there are any visible.   Call the police and, if needed, ask for an ambulance if anyone is injured. Make contact with the other driver and exchange personal information, including insurance and driver’s license information.  You can take a photo of the information to make sure everything is accurate.  Take photographs of the license plate of the other car.   If the other driver is agitated or threatening, do not engage in an argument or other contact.  Wait for the police to arrive and make sure that you explain to the officer how the accident happened.   Get the contact information of any witnesses, including telephone numbers.  Ask them what they saw and who they thought was at fault.  An independent witness will be extremely important if the cause of the accident is at all unclear.  Ask the witness to speak with the officer if they are willing to wait for them to arrive.  If they cannot or will not stay, provide the contact information to the police officer so they can make contact later.   If anyone in the accident complains of an injury, seek immediate medical attention. Don’t wait; go straight to the hospital or urgent care. This will document your injuries. Even if the accident wasn’t serious, if you are in any sort of pain, get evaluated by a doctor as soon as you can as many people underestimate the extent of their injuries because the accident causes an adrenaline rush. Delaying treatment creates an opportunity for insurance companies to argue that your injuries resulted from another some other mishap.   The following specific actions will preserve your legal rights and help you to recover:  
  • Ask the police officer to write up a report. Be sure to ask for a copy for your records.
 
  • Collect evidence right after the accident. Get detailed contact information from every person involved, including names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and insurance information. Also, take photos of the accident scene. Consider keeping any broken vehicle parts.
 
  • Don’t admit liability, as this could prevent you from filing a claim. Exercise caution when speaking to those involved in the crash, witnesses, and insurance representatives.
 
  • Call a car accident attorney. These legal experts can assess and build a case while helping you comprehend the law as it relates to your situation. Retaining an experienced lawyer is the most beneficial thing you can do when trying to obtain compensation.
  At Heller & Thyen, P.A., we work with and represent clients who have suffered all sorts of injuries resulting from car accidents. Our St. Cloud lawyers can review your case thoroughly, give practical suggestions for how to move forward, and help you fully understand your legal rights. Call us today for a free consultation!

Understanding No-Fault Coverage in Minnesota

  Everyone injured in a motor vehicle accident in Minnesota is entitled No-fault benefits. These benefits include coverage for medical treatment, including medical mileage, lost income, and replacement of essential services. These laws are meant to reduce the financial hardship that is caused by being involved in an accident relating to the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.     No-Fault benefits allow the injured person to choose the type of treatment that you want to have.  The insurance company is not permitted to direct they type or amount of care a car accident victim needs.  In fact, the law specifically includes chiropractic, physical therapy, orthopedic or neurologic care.  If you would prefer acupuncture, you can choose it and, so long as the treatment is reasonably priced, helpful and related to the accident, your car insurance will cover it.   Sometimes, insurance companies will have you seen by a doctor of their choice  This is called an “independent medical exam” or “IME”.  Unfortunately, such exams are hardly independent.  Make no mistake, the doctor the insurance company chooses is someone who routinely offers opinions favorable to the insurance company.  The result of the “exam” is the insurance company refusing to pay any additional medical care relating to the car wreck.  Even worse, sometimes the insurance company will refuse to pay bills that were already incurred.  We call this unfair practice a “retroactive denial”.  In either case, you will need to have someone in your corner to force the insurance company to pay the benefits that you deserve.  Fortunately, the law provides an inexpensive and relatively quick way to resolve the dispute through an arbitration.The St. Cloud lawyers of Heller & Thyen, P.A. can explain the ins-and-outs of no-fault benefits and help you file a claim with your insurance company.They can also enforce your rights if your company refuses to pay a bill. Whether or not you retain our services, we will provide you with practical advice so you can make informed decisions.   What Do No-Fault Benefits Cover?   Minnesota legally requires residents who store or drive their vehicles in-state to carry certain types and amounts of car insurance. No-fault coverage includes the following:

Personal Injury Protection (PIP):

 
  • $40,000 per person, per accident, with up to $20,000 going toward medical costs and up to  $20,000 for lost wages  at 85% of your weekly gross income with a maximum of $500 per week.

  • Up to $2,000 for funeral costs in the event of death.
  No-fault benefits also cover mileage costs for trips to and from medical providers, replacement services costs, and a number of other costs incurred by the injured, insured party.   These are the minimum coverages.  You can purchase additional no-fault benefits from your insurance agent.  Make sure that you ask for the coverage!   What Happens if Car Accident Costs Exceed No-Fault Coverage Limits?   Because No-Fault insurance is designed to provide immediate relief for the financial hardship caused by car accidents, the amount of coverage available is limited.  On occasion, an accident will cause significant injuries and, therefore, result in more medical bills or lost wages than the no-fault benefits will cover.   If your bills exceed the amount of coverage you have under your policy, you will need to provide the medical providers with your personal health insurance.  Usually your health insurer will need verification from your auto insurance company that the medical benefits have been exhausted before they will pay.  If your insurance company has refused to pay a bill, even though you have additional benefits available, you will need to provide your insurance company with a letter from your auto insurer that they are denying further payment.   Can I get the other person’s insurance company to pay the excess expenses?   If your accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be able to recover any medical bills or lost income that was not covered by your no-fault benefits.  In addition, you may also be able to recover damages for pain, suffering, disability, permanency of your injuries, as will as future damages that are reasonably certain to occur.  In order to make this claim, you will have to prove that you meet certain factors, which we call “thresholds”.  Keep in mind, if you do receive compensation from the at-fault party, and you had your personal health insurance pay some of your medical bills, your health insurer has a right of “subrogation” that allows them to get paid back some or all of what they paid.  An experienced attorney can help you deal with such a situation.   In Minnesota, drivers can only file a liability case if they’ve accumulated $4,000 or more in justifiable medical expenses related to the car accident, or suffered a permanent injury, permanent disfigurement, or can prove a disability for 60 days or more. policy coverage.   Liability cases can only be filed if the other driver is found to be responsible for the accident. With that in mind, hiring a personal injury lawyer can help victims of car accidents legally prove the other party was liable. Filing for compensation of these expenses can also be time- and paperwork-intensive. The personal injury attorneys at Heller & Thyen, P.A. are here to help you understand and navigate this lengthy legal process. Whether you want to file a simple no-fault case or also need to seek liability compensation, our St. Cloud lawyers will provide the legal assistance you need to recover after a traumatic car accident. Call us today for a free consultation!  

Minnesota Slip and Fall Attorneys

Slip and fall accidents are among the most common types of litigated casualties in the United States. They can sometimes be so serious that they result in injuries requiring expensive and extensive medical treatment. Common injuries from falling include fractured legs, ankles and arms.  Some severe breaks even require surgery.  Head injuries are also common. Consulting a personal injury lawyer after a slip and fall can help to determine if you are eligible for compensation due to the negligence of a property or business owner.

What Circumstances Can Lead to Slips and Falls?

A slip and fall injury happens when the dangerous condition of another person’s property causes someone to lose their balance and fall to the ground. As such, there are as many types of slip and fall accidents as there are places they can occur. Some of the most common places people slip and fall include:
  • Stairways (particularly those that are not well lit)
  • Terraces or balconies
  • Parking ramps
  • Cracked or uneven sidewalks or driveways
  • Poorly maintained or wet floors
  • Walkways obstructed by objects
  • Slippery or icy sidewalks and entries
  • Store aisles that are wet from mopping or spilled food items.

How Is Liability Determined for Slip and Fall Accidents?

Property owners are obligated to ensure their property is in safe condition for those who are welcome on the premises. If the property contains an unreasonable risk to visitors which could not be foreseen, it is considered to be in a dangerous condition, and therefore the property owner could be held liable before a court of law. If a property owner neglected this duty and knew or should have known about a hazardous or faulty condition that caused you to slip and fall, you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries you sustained.

Ice and Snow in Minnesota: How Do They Impact Slip and Fall Cases?

On the grounds that property owners must consistently maintain all parts of their property, including any parking lots and walkways, ice and snow must be regularly removed. They are allowed to take a “reasonable” amount of time to remove these safety hazards, so if you slip and fall in an icy or snowy parking lot during a blizzard, the property owner would likely not be held legally responsible because the snowstorm was still ongoing. On the other hand, the property owner may be considered liable if an abnormal accumulation of ice or snow occurs due to maintenance issues on the property. Some instances of this would include:
  • If ice became built up on a roof, then melted and dripped off because of a clogged drain, and became refrozen on the ground;
  • If a parking lot full of potholes and dips caused melted ice to form puddles, which then became refrozen into patches of ice;
  • Accumulation of packed down snow that becomes very smooth and slippery.
  Apartment property owners who provide ice and snow removal services for their tenants are also obligated to keep up with snowfall and ice formation by providing regular maintenance.   Evidence of the condition of the area where the fall occurs is critical.  Take as many photographs of whatever you slipped or fell on, including the icy patch or item.  On a sidewalk that is not level, use a dollar bill or quarter to demonstrate the size of the drop.   Immediately contact the property owner and make a report.  Show them whatever caused the fall and ask that they also take photographs.  Finally, look around for any surveillance video cameras and, if you notice one, ask the owner of the camera to provide you with a copy of the tape.  If they refuse, provide them with a letter asking them to preserve the tape.  Also, ask for their insurance information.   If an ambulance or police are called, which is recommended, point out to them whatever it was that caused you to fall, so they can also document it.  You also can use that officer or EMT as a future witness.  

Our Competent St. Cloud Attorneys Can Assist With Your Slip and Fall Case

When it comes to these sorts of accidents, many factors need to be considered to file a strong suit, such as previous complaints against a property owner, establishing the negligence of a property owner, and determining any fault on the part of the injured individual. Personal injury law firms will also examine various other factors while investigating and building your case. We, at Heller & Thyen, P.A. can help you understand the laws surrounding slips and falls as we work to assemble the strongest possible claim to get you the help you need. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a slip and fall accident and would like to know more about how these sorts of cases are handled, contact our St. Cloud lawyers today for a free consultation.  

We Help Dog Bite Victims Recover

Being attacked by a dog can be a terrifying and traumatic experience, and can cause significant injury. Every year, dogs bite over four million people in the United States, and over one million of those victims end up needing medical treatment. As personal injury attorneys who have represented numerous victims, we understand your situation and can provide skilled, knowledgeable, and compassionate representation. At Heller & Thyen, P.A., we’re here to help you get the care and compensation you need.

What Causes a Dog to Attack?

Dogs will sometimes bite or attack people for little or no reason. Even a very tame dog could abruptly nip or even attack without any warning. Because of this fact, Minnesota has a law that makes the owner of a dog strictly liable. That means that the victim does not have to prove that the owner was aware of the dangerous nature of the dog, or was otherwise negligent. If you are bit by someone else’s dog, you have an absolute right to be compensated for the harm that the dog causes. There are two exceptions that the law recognizes as a defense to strict liability: Provocation and trespassing. Whether you were trespassing or whether you were doing something that provoked the dog into attacking or biting is a fact question, so it is important to gather evidence to verify exactly what happened.

Identifying the Dog and Dog Owner

While the owner of a dog who causes an injury to someone is responsible for paying for the damages caused by their dog, if the owner cannot be found or if the owner is not insured, it may be impossible to obtain compensation. Therefore, it is very important to identify the dog that causes an injury and also immediately verify who the owner of the dog is. Doing so prevents a situation where a person denies that the dog belongs to them. A person who harbors a dog can also be responsible for the damages caused by a dog, even if they do not actually own the dog. Sometimes a parent will take care of a dog while their adult child is living in an apartment or cannot take care of the dog for an extended period of time. If a dog attacks and the handler claims that the dog does not belong to them, ask for their identity and who the owner is. Ask why they are handling the dog if they do not own it. Ask if they are keeping the dog at their house.

Ask for Insurance Information

Immediately ask the dog owner for their insurance information. They may be more willing to provide it when they feel sorry that their dog caused an injury, even if they do not feel it was their dog’s fault. Later, they may get concerned that the dog may be taken from them or even put down because it had bit someone. They then stop responding to calls or letters. When finally reached, they may refuse to cooperate and will not give you insurance information. The earlier the insurance information is obtained, the better. Call the Police or Sheriff’s Office Immediately It is always helpful to have a police report made after any dog attack. First, people are more willing to provide information if it is an officer that is asking for it. Second, the police are able to force the owner to provide vaccination information of the dog that can prevent very painful rabies shots. Also, the police may be able to discern the actual owner of the dog, which can prevent confusion later.

Take Photographs

Because most people have a cell phone with them at all times, it makes it much easier to obtain photos of the dog at the time of the incident. It can provide evidence of the identity of the dog and therefore the owner of the dog. It can provide evidence of exactly where the incident occurred, which can rebut an allegation that you were trespassing at the time the dog bit you. It can also show the location and severity of the bite immediately after it happens. This is helpful in proving that the injuries you allege were caused by the bite. Scars tend to heal and it can sometimes be hard to see where the injury occurred, especially puncture wounds.

Seek Immediate Medical Treatment

If you are bitten or scratched by a dog, or any animal, seek immediate medical care. Dog bites can cause infection. The wound needs to be professionally cleaned and dressed. An antibiotic may be prescribed or over the counter antibiotic ointment may be recommended. You also want to make sure you get vaccinated if the dog was not up to date on its shots. Depending upon the location and severity of the scar, you may want to consult with a plastic surgeon. A plastic surgeon can remove stitches, give you advice as to how to care for the wound and how to prevent the scar from getting worse. Finally, a plastic surgeon may be able to reduce the appearance of the scar, after it has fully healed. Many people suffer from emotional problems, including nightmares, apprehension or fear of dogs, depression or anxiety after being attacked by a dog. You can seek counseling to help you overcome these problems. Do not be afraid of seeking help. People who have received counseling after such a traumatic event will tell you that it is very helpful. You will learn techniques to deal with any ongoing issues related to the dog attack.

Call an Attorney

An experienced attorney can help you through this process. We can help make sure that you get the best recovery possible. We can help with the investigation and get information that will help prove the facts of the attack. Because witnesses are best identified as soon as possible, it is important to call an attorney right away.

What Types of Compensation are Available for Dog Bite Victims?

Our skilled St. Cloud attorneys can help get you compensation for the following: ● Current and ongoing medical expenses ● Mental health treatment ● Emotional and psychological distress ● Loss of wages and future income ● Pain and suffering ● Lifetime care and medical costs for severe cases ● Permanency of scarring.

Suffered a Dog Bite Injury?

If you or a loved one has been bitten or injured by a dog, contact the St. Cloud personal injury attorneys at Heller & Thyen, P.A. for support in making informed decisions about your case.

Car Accident Injury Legal Claims

We all know that auto accidents happen. It comes with the territory when you're driving down the road at anywhere from 25-65 miles per hour (or more), along with everybody else. Even if you're a cautious and responsible driver, there's no accounting for every other car on the road. Plenty of drivers succumb to distraction, drive under the influence, or simply screw up. It happens. When you're heading to work, running errands, or going to visit a friend, you may suddenly find yourself at the mercy of someone who's texting and driving. Perhaps it’s someone who didn't get enough sleep last night, or who decided to run that red light or roll through the stop sign. Whether you're doing everything right or you hold equal blame for causing an accident, you could find yourself dealing with an injury and mounting medical bills. In Minnesota, like most states, the process of making claims begins with insurance coverage. However, if insurance won't cover the losses caused by an accident, you may elect to pursue legal action. There are three possible claims you can make in wake of a car accident: property damage, no-fault benefits, and personal or bodily injury claims. Property damage claims are usually paid by the insurance company covering the at-fault driver.  If you have comprehensive or collision coverage, and the accident is either your own fault or no one’s fault (such as hitting a deer), your own insurance company will pay for the damage, less your deductible. If you've been injured in an automobile accident, there are several different claims that you may have.

No-Fault Insurance

Minnesota is a “No-Fault” state.  We have a system in place that guarantees that everyone who is injured in a motor vehicle accident is provided with a package of benefits that are intended to take the financial hardship out of being injured in a car crash.  They include:
  • $20,000 of medical treatment, including reimbursement for transportation;
  • $20,000 of wage loss benefits with a cap at $500 per week;
  • Replacement of Essential Services up to $200 per week;
  • Up to $10,000 in retraining.
There is a system set up that determines which insurance company is responsible for paying the benefits.  The general rule is your own insurance company pays your benefits.

Types of Injuries

The severity of your injuries following a car accident could have some bearing on whether you're entitled to additional compensation through legal claims. For example, you may only have cuts, scrapes, or sprains. Maybe you have other minor injuries that require relatively little medical care, resulting in a small amount of medical expense. In such cases, it is likely that no-fault insurance will cover the associated costs, and no other claim will be available. However, you might also suffer from common issues like whiplash, back pain, or neck pain in the wake of a collision. These injuries can require ongoing care such as physical therapy and chiropractic care to correct. Additionally, you might have more serious problems like broken bones, herniated or ruptured discs, or other spinal injuries. It’s also possible to sustain brain injuries or internal organ damage. In such cases, serious, immediate, and ongoing medical care may be required. Those bills could rack up quickly. You may end up exceeding the limits of no-fault insurance. If so, seeking legal recourse to recoup remaining costs is the next step.

Statute of Limitations

When it comes to personal injury lawsuits, Minnesota has several different statutes of limitations for filing different legal claims.  A statute of limitations is a legal deadline for a lawsuit to be commenced.  If you fail to start a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period, your claim will be lost forever. Some of them are quite short, so it is essential that you speak with an attorney as quickly as possible to learn which statute applies to your case.  The statutes of limitation start on the date of the accident.   People who have missed the deadline commonly do not initially want to bother with a claim and then, after the physical problems have not healed completely, decide to act, only to find out it is too late. Therefore, you need know what statute applies to your case and to remain aware of the deadline for filing a civil suit so that you don't miss your window. The statute of limitations for negligence in Minnesota is generally 6 years, but there are exceptions:  Claims arising from civil rights violations are as short as 1 year; claim for assault and battery (2 years); injuries that are caused by a permanent improvement to real property (2 years); medical negligence (4 years) property damage is six years. There are others as well.  That is why it is vitally important to consult with an attorney whenever you are injured, even if you do not plan to bring a claim. If you choose to bring a claim for personal injury arising out of a motor vehicle accidents, beyond receiving no-fault benefits, Minnesota has some placed some barriers that must first be met.  We call these barriers “thresholds”.  They are the trade off for no-fault benefits.  The thresholds are as follows:
  1. $4000 in non-diagnostic medical expenses related to the accident;
  2. A disfigurement, such as a scar or amputation;
  3. 60 days of disability; or
  4. A permanent injury.
You must meet at least one of these in order to bring your claim. The rationale for establishing these barriers is to ensure that only severe injuries are brought.  Our legislature believes that more minor accidents will be taken care of by no-fault alone. Minnesota law requires drivers carry personal liability insurance at a minimum of $30,000 per person, or $60,000 minimum for total injuries per accident. If costs exceed this amount, injured parties may seek compensation from other drivers involved in the accident. In that case, comparative fault rules would apply. If the other motorist involved in the accident is uninsured, you will look to your own insurance company to step into the shoes of the uninsured driver.  This is called uninsured coverage, or “UM”.  If your injuries exceed the amount of coverage limits of the at-fault party, you can also look to your own insurance policy for additional compensation.  This is called underinsured coverage, or “UIM”.  You may want to talk to your insurance agent to make sure you purchase enough coverage to protect yourself in the event of a significant accident.  The minimum coverage in Minnesota is $30,000.  That is not very much if you have major injuries.  I recommend at least $100,000 in coverage.

Comparative Fault

Minnesota is a comparative fault state where car accidents are concerned. In other words, in determining how someone is compensated for their injuries stemming from an accident, the actions of all parties involved are compared.  If you are more at fault that the other driver, you cannot receive compensation for your injuries.  If the other party’s fault is greater than yours, you can recover, but your damages are reduced by your percentage of fault.  For instance, if it is determined that the fault for an accident is allocated 70% other driver/30% you, and it is determined that the value of your damages is $10,000, than you would collect $7,000. There is a myth that a driver is 10% at fault, just because they are on the road.  This is not true.  If an insurance adjuster is assiging some fault to you, make sure the explain the facts that the insurance adjuster that are the basis of their allocation.  If it is simply because you were on the road, make sure you seek help from an attorney, because that is not a valid reason.

Pedestrians and Cyclists

Perhaps, not everyone involved in an automobile accident is driving at the time. What can you do if you're injured in a collision with a motor vehicle accident when at the time you were either walking or riding a bike at the time? The same laws apply. You must first seek no-fault compensation for injuries from your own auto insurance. If you don't have a vehicle or car insurance, you may seek compensation from the motorist involved in the accident. If necessary, you can even file a civil claim.

CONCLUSION

There are a lot of issues that can arise from a motor vehicle accident.  If you have questions about your rights it is important to get answers from someone you trust.  Heller & Thyen, P.A. only represent injured people. We do not work for or represent insurance companies.  Call us whenever you or a loved one have been injured in an accident.  

Is Bankruptcy Right for Me?

Most of us never receive any formal instruction in finance, and so it's no surprise that so many adults at some point find themselves in financial straits. If you're lucky, you learn your lesson early on and you're able to repair any damage you've caused in short order. Maybe you overextend with a low-limit credit card, but over the course of several months you pay it off and you solemnly resolve to be more careful with credit in the future. On the other hand, you could be going along fine, paying off student loans, whittling down your mortgage, and even setting some money aside in savings and a 401K, when all of a sudden you suffer an unexpected injury, illness, layoff, divorce, or another scenario that launches you into a financial crisis. Not everyone ends up facing overwhelming financial burden because of poor decisions - some people are just unlucky or unprepared. Although the thought of filing for Chapter 7 or another form of bankruptcy is a frightening proposition, it really is a pretty simple and easy process. Bankruptcy could be your best option to get out from under overwhelming financial burden. Or perhaps there are other options you hadn't considered. Your best bet is to speak with a qualified advisor from an experienced local law firm in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. A professional attorney that specializes in bankruptcy can guide you through every option and help you determine whether it's in your best interest to file for bankruptcy, or if another option is better suited to your situation. In the meantime, here are a few things you'll have to consider when deciding if bankruptcy is right for you. What is Chapter 7? There are two main forms of bankruptcy filing: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The most common by far is Chapter 7, which is sometimes referred to as "straight bankruptcy" because of the relative simplicity of the process.  In Chapter 7, there is no payment plan, and it only takes about 3 months from filing to the end, when the bankruptcy court issues you a “discharge”, which is the forgiveness of your debts that are covered in bankruptcy. In Minnesota, we have laws that are very generous to ensure that people can keep the assets they own to guarantee a “fresh start”.  That means that most people will be able to keep everything and eliminate all of their debts.  Because bankruptcy is a balancing act, sometimes people have significant assets and not all of them can be protected.  In that case, your bankruptcy professional will review with you what assets are not protected and how the bankruptcy trustee will work with you to either surrender the unprotected assets or negotiate a settlement where you can “buy back” the non-exempt property that you wish to keep. How Do I Know Its Time To Talk to a Bankruptcy Attorney?   What is Chapter 13? Chapter 13 bankruptcy is where you use your future income to pay back some or all of your current debts.  Chapter 13 is sometimes called a “wage earner” plan or a “reorganization bankruptcy”.  When you file for Chapter 13 in Waite Park, MN, or anywhere in Minnesota, for that matter, you and your attorney propose a plan to contribute a certain payment for a period of time between 36 and 60 months. There are a number of reasons why you might choose Chapter 13 over Chapter 7.  They include:
  1. You simply want to pay back your debts but everyone wants all of their money right now, but you cannot please everyone. Chapter 13 forces the creditors to wait to allow you to make one payment and the creditors get an orderly and predictable payment so long as you can afford to do so.  In other words, you can pay them back on your schedule, in an amount that you can afford, rather than the amount and timeframe they want.
  1. You are behind on a secured payment, such as a mortgage or car loan. You are at risk for either repossession or foreclosure.  Chapter 13 can prevent the banks from taking your home or car.  You can use the Chapter 13 plan to get caught up on the back payments while you continue to make your regular scheduled payments to the bank.  By the time your plan is completed, you will have caught up on your loan payments.
  1. You want to save an asset that you would otherwise have to surrender if you filed Chapter 7. Let’s say your dad left you a classic car that he had as a teenager.  It is a family heirloom and it is your duty to protect it.  Or let’s say your parents put a cabin in the your name, along with your other siblings. That asset may prevent you from filing a Chapter 7 because you would risk having to sell the cabin in order cover your interest in the cabin.  A Chapter 13 will allow you to keep the car or cabin so long as you pay enough to cover the value of the asset.  Your bankruptcy professional will help figure out how much your payment would need to be to successfully keep your special, but valuable assets and still get relief from your creditors.
  1. You have filed a Chapter 7 within the last 8 years. You would not be eligible for a Chapter 7 discharge until after the 8 years has passed.  However, you could file a Chapter 7 after only 4 years.
  1. You have issues from a divorce where you are obligated to pay a property settlement to your former spouse or have agreed to “hold harmless” your former spouse for a debt that you both owed jointly. Filing Chapter 7 in that situation could result in your ex-spouse taking you back to family court to enforce that provision in your divorce decree.  A chapter 13 will allow you to discharge you property settlement with your ex-wife.  Keep in mind that debts relating to child support and spousal maintenance are never discharged in bankruptcy.  You need to speak with a very experienced attorney about divorce decree related debts because there are other issues that may be raised when divorce related debts are at issue in bankruptcy.
  1. You just make too much money to qualify for Chapter 7. Chapter 7 is means tested.  That means the court looks at the amount of money that you have earned over the past 6 months and also looks at the size of your household.  The more people in the house, the more money you can earn and still qualify for Chapter 7.  Your attorney will help you figure out if you qualify for Chapter 7 based on income.  You you do not qualify, Chapter 13 will be your best bet for getting debt relief.
What Are the Benefits of Filing Bankruptcy? Once the court accepts the bankruptcy filing, creditors can no longer contact you for payment, garnishment will stop, harassing phone calls will stop, foreclosure will be postponed or stopped, depending on the bankruptcy you choose, and after the bankruptcy is complete, remaining debt will be discharged. As mentioned above, bankruptcy will allow you to eliminate your debts, keep most if not all of your assets, and give you a fresh start.  You can also begin to rebuild your credit.  You cannot rebuild your credit until your debt problem has been resolved.  Bankruptcy is usually the fastest way to solve your debt problem.  Most people are able to rebuild their credit rather quickly after bankruptcy.  Banks will be willing to lend money for the purchase of a car the day after your discharge, albeit at a higher interest rate.  Income and employment are, of course, a factor. Banks will send you solicitations for car loans and credit card offers after you file bankruptcy.  We caution you to be careful about the offers.  Check the fine print and beware of high interest rates, annual fees and other hidden costs.  We recommend that our clients get a pre-paid credit card from their bank and keep using it and re-filling it every month. What are the Lasting Effects? There's no denying that successfully filing for bankruptcy will affect your credit, but perhaps not in the ways you anticipate. Yes, a Chapter 7 filing will stay on your credit report for ten years. A Chapter 13 will likely remain for seven years (although it could be up to ten). What does this mean? It could affect your eligibility for leases or loans, impacting your ability to purchase big ticket items like a home or automobile. It could stop you from qualifying for other credit offers like credit cards.  Underwriting guidelines will govern when a bank will be able to approve you for a mortgage loan. However, you may find that just the opposite is true. For many people, a successful bankruptcy filing is something of a clean slate. You get to wipe away the majority of your debt and begin rebuilding your credit from scratch, instead of struggling to dig your way out of a deficit. In some ways, a successful bankruptcy can help you to regain control of your life. It's not easy admitting that you've lost all control of your finances, and you certainly don't want to give up a family home in the process. When you no longer have a mountain of debt weighing you down and creditors breathing down your neck, though, you can begin to see a hopeful future ahead and start planning again, even if you do have to be a lot more careful with your finances moving forward. It is important that you actively rebuild your credit, rather than just waiting for time to pass.  It is sometimes said that no credit is worse than bad credit. Other Options Filing for bankruptcy may not turn out to be your best option, as an experienced bankruptcy attorney can tell you. There are other options to explore in many cases, depending on your particular situation. You may be able to negotiate reductions in bills and set up viable payment plans with creditors, for example. After all, their goal is to recoup any portion of what you owe, and they may be willing to bend a lot in order to make that happen. If you're being harassed by creditors, you may be able to file a claim against them under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and reduce the amount you owe in part or in full. In short, you might not need to file for bankruptcy at all. The first step to finding out is to contact a qualified legal firm to discuss whether or not bankruptcy is right for you.

Consider Chapter 13

Most people who are considering bankruptcy only look at Chapter 7. It is by far the most common type of bankruptcy that is filed and usually what people are referring to when they think of the term 'bankruptcy.' You are in and out of bankruptcy in just a few months, most debts are discharged and, with very generous exemptions (protections of certain property) available, most people do not lose any property. However, by looking only at Chapter 7, people sometimes overlook the powerful features of Chapter 13. Most people look at Chapter 13 only if they are behind on their mortgage or car payments. (Chapter 13 can force the mortgage company and car loan company to accept small payments over the course of the Chapter 13 plan period -- from 36 to 60 months -- to catch up on the missed payments. Chapter 13 can also modify the terms of secured loans, from lowering interest rates to paying back only the fair market value of the collateral. Chapter 13 also allows you to be protected from creditors that cannot otherwise be discharged in bankruptcy, such as student loans. There are many unique and powerful uses for Chapter 13. Look around this web site or call us to discuss how Chapter 13 can make a difference in guaranteeing a fresh start.

Beware the National Student Loan Help Scams

As many of our readers are aware, we assist people with their student loans. There are programs that are available to make student loan payments affordable. We help our clients evaluate whether they qualify for the programs and, if so, help decide what programs are best for them and even assist in preparing the applications to qualify. Recently I have begun hearing advertisements for national programs that offer a similar type assistance. They sound remarkably like the tax relief ads we all heard a few years ago -- until they abruptly shut down (and in some famous cases, went bankrupt). They also sound a lot like the debt relief programs that were flooding the airwaves, which caused the Minnesota Attorney General and the legislature get involved in regulating these programs. While I have not yet explored how these guys work, I am betting that if the ads sound the same, so will the sales pitch. Make payments to us upfront and hope we come through for you before you run out of money! If you have student loan payments that are budget busters, call us to see what we can do for you. Our fees are affordable and are not hidden. You may be amazed at what we can do for you.